Young specialists boost central Vietnamese province’s demining efforts

Clearing unexploded ordnance is no longer exclusive to males, as young female defusers excel at the job

Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh, who currently heads a mine location and defusing team with RENEW, a project run by the Norwegian People’s Aid, poses with a bomb buried for 42 years at a local's garden in Hai Lang District in the central province of Quang Tri.

More than 40 years after the end of the war in Vietnam, young specialists, including many women in their 20s, are working to clear locales in the central province of Quang Tri of leftover unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Quang Tri was one of the most heavily bombed regions in Vietnam by the U.S. military’s war campaign, which came to an end in 1975.

Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh, 33, currently heads a mine location and defusing team with RENEW, a project run by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).

The NPA, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on mine and explosive clearance, has carried out UXO clearance projects in several central Vietnamese provinces including Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien-Hue.

Last year the small-statured woman was appointed to the position, a surprise in a field typically dominated by men.

Linh’s qualifications in landmine deactivation were issued by the NPA, and she has received advanced training courses offered by the U.S.’s James Madison University in Jordan in 2009.

Originally working as an interpreter, she has now been involved in the demining field for more than eight years.

Linh, now in charge 160 staff divided into 26 teams under the RENEW project, moves briskly between the rough field sites and gives clear-cut commands to ensure her crew upholds the highest standards of safety and performance efficiency.

A few weeks ago Linh escorted a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter to a secluded hilly area to the west of Hai Lam Commune in Hai Lang District, where one of her cluster bomb demining survey teams was working.

Staffers of Peace Tree, a non-governmental organization active in mine clearance in Quang Tri, are about to defuse a 1,000-pound bomb transported from over 100 kilometers away. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The team, led by Nguyen Quoc Bao, was painstakingly working under the scorching sun though it was only nine in the morning.

Among Bao’s young team members is Cam Nhung, who is only in her early 20s.

Born long after the war was over, the girl, along with her peers, is giving her best to heal the wounds of war.

The Tuoi Tre reporter also met Le Xuan Tung, head of RENEW’s mobile demining team No. 1, while the latter was on his way to defuse a number of explosives in Hai Tho District following tip-offs from locals.  

Tung and his team members triggered strictly controlled blasts on an almost daily basis in their efforts to safely remove deadly ordnance from the areas.

A day at work

To enter the restricted survey areas where Linh, Bao and Nhung work, visitors are required to undergo a stringent process, including providing their personal parameters and blood types.

Cluster bombs typically stored between 650 and over 1,000 projectiles that could affect the entire vicinity of the area in which they were dropped, studies have indicated.

Detected cluster bombs and other explosives are input into a database at the end of the day and the ordnance-contaminated areas are meticulously mapped and provide helpful data for a data bank run by Quang Tri Province Legacy of War Coordination Center, the Tuoi Tre reporter was told.

Recently founded by the provincial People’s Committee, the center is patronized by the NPA and joined by other non-governmental organizations in a bid to better coordinate efforts in surmounting the impacts of post-war UXOs.

The center will later turn to these NGOs, including the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), based in the UK, aimed at clearing landmines, UXOs and other remnants of conflict for the benefit of communities worldwide, which will proceed with the defusing work.

Under the RENEW project, surveys are being carried out across Quang Tri and are expected to be completed in five years.

Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh (C) works with U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius (R) during a field trip to a mine clearance site in Quang Tri. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Prior to 2014, organizations and projects involved in landmine clearance such as RENEW, MAG, Cay Hoa Binh (Peace Tree) and C.P.I., operated separately in different districts.

The groups began coordinating their efforts two years ago in a bid t to implement systematic, large-scale surveys and demining plans throughout the province.

Over the past 20 years, with funding from the U.S. government NGOs have helped clear 8,399 hectares of land in Quang Tri and safely removed and destroyed 556,448 UXOs.

Since the war ended in 1975, the Vietnamese government has spent US$80-100 million resolving UXO issues every year and has received support from domestic and international organizations.

About 800,000 tonnes of bombs, mines, and other explosive weapons were left and buried in Vietnam after its resistance against American invaders from 1954 to 1975, a Vietnamese official said in 2014.

In the past years, approximately only 3.26 percent of the country’s total areas contaminated with UXOs have been cleared.

Since 1975, explosions of bombs, mines, and other weapons have killed more than 40,000 people and maimed about 60,000 others in Vietnam, he added.

UXOs have also affected the country’s socio-economic development, as Vietnam has spent thousands of billions of dong (VND1 billion = $44,334) each year on UXO clearance and supporting victims of UXOs.

With the current capacity of the government, it may take about 320 years to clear all landmines in the country, another official said.

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